The more time Lilibeth spent away from the cottage and at The Library, the more she realized how used she had been. By what she couldn't be sure, but she had begun to feel like a pawn in some cosmic chess game. She didn't know the players, and she didn't know the rules, but, she had gotten to know a few of the game pieces.
It had been several days since her arrival. The feeling of being somewhere new filled her both with excitement and anxiety, and there was a sense of change floating about. She had confirmation now: there were more of these cottages in alternate universes, and different people within those cottages. How many were out there? Possibly infinite? Lilibeth couldn't tell.
Perseus had put it thusly: “Whatever forces are controlling this situation, they don't appear overtly hostile, and they only target versions of what is commonly- though not always- called The Foundation.”
The Library and Ways appeared to be the only safe haven from this influence. Perseus explained how when he had first escaped his cottage, he had tried to return to his Foundation. Though he tried multiple times, he was almost immediately redirected back to the cottage once he left The Library or the Ways.
“Whatever forces are controlling this situation, they aren't overtly friendly either,” Norma had scoffed, adjusting the off-kilter top hat which she insisted on wearing. Her and Perseus weren't the only other two from these cottages either. Lilibeth saw a third person arrive sometime the day after her. He was a shambling mess of a man; skin grey, hairless body, and covered in rags. He identified himself as Crux, servant of “The Nineteenth Grounds”, which by his account bore striking resemblance to Site-19.
The only individual involved in this extended get-together who had not come from the cottage was Carina. In fact, Carina was only tied to The Library, which is to say, she was firmly melded to the floor behind the desk she was placed at. Apparently this was not uncommon for librarians here, but that's besides the point. It was her who reserved dormitory style rooms for Lilibeth, Perseus, Norma, and Crux to stay in. They were welcome to stay as long as needed.
It was day 4 since Lilibeth had arrived at the Library.
Now, Lilibeth sat in one of the comfortable chairs placed in a circle around the center of the conference room. Across from her was Perseus, to her left Crux, and to her right Norma. In the corner, behind Perseus, Carina jotted down notes in a blank book.
“You insist on stopping it?” Crux asked.
“I'm not ruling it out,” Perseus replied, “this thing is taking people, has been taking people, and will almost certainly continue to do so once we’re gone. If it's for some sinister purpose, then I want it neutralized, the scenario and whatever’s behind this thing.”
“I'm telling you, it is the will of the Slouthering,” implored Crux.
“Slou-what-ering?” Norma shot the man a quizzical look.
“Listen, Crux, I understand your beliefs, and I'm doing my best to respect them, but we don't want to jump to any conclusions here.”
“I’m with Perseus,” Norma continued, “we need to figure what’s going on here and we can only do that with the information we have currently. Orion, you said you found a bunch of cogs underground?”
“Yeah,” Lilibeth confirmed. “Deep below the grassy field is a series of tunnels. Most of them lead to empty rooms, but this one, it goes to a big room of machinery. I haven’t a clue what it’s supposed to do, but it’s certainly doing something.”
“And you also said something about where the water from the pump goes,” Perseus added, “with what you think could be names of other alternates of SCP-2508?”
“Yes. Especially with Crux’s belief in this ‘Slouthering’ entity, I’m almost certain.”
“So what I wanna know,” Norma was pacing now, rubbing her chin, “is what the hell needs all this water we’re putting in that pump anyway? And if those extra pipes you saw are in fact ours- oh shit, that means our cottages our actually physically linked and working together to provide this water.”
“Perhaps The Slouthering is thirsty,” Crux suggested. Norma paused.
“What is this Slouthering thing anyway?” she asked. Crux’s eyes widened.
“Why, it is the divine. The legends of old tell of it, and its Type-Fritz Hosts. It needs them to manifest, you know. Do you not have the stories in your dimension?”
“No,” Norma stated flatly.
Lilibeth travelled back to SCP-2508 on the 7th day since she had left. She grabbed belongings, refilled generators and pumps, and made sure things were in order. She did not intend on coming back. In a way, she would miss the comfort of this place. She had grown attached to it. But she knew in her heart that this wasn't the place for her. If there was even a chance of escaping it, she had to take it. There was a house and a family she hadn't seen in almost 20 years; she especially missed her daughter Emily, who would be grown by now.
It was overcast, and there was a salty smell in the air that reminded Lilibeth of a beach at low tide. As she shut the door to what had been her home for the past two decades, her heart skipped a beat. She was leaving. Raindrops began to pepper the ground as the world was obscured from view; a circle of dirt and clay rising up and slowly consuming the sky as the elevator returned to the depths of the dark.
Soon she was back in The Library, where Crux and Norma were searching through an aisle labeled “Auniversal”. They had an unprecedented amount of information at their disposal, and with it they were trying to find any clues as to what the cottages were, and where they might have come from.
“I see you two have been busy,” said Lilibeth.
“And apparently we aren't the only ones,” Norma added, “you got your stuff from your cottage? Don't need to go back for anything?”
“I shouldn't. I've had enough of filling up a pump for one life. What about you?”
“We’ll be getting to that.”
“Okay,” Lilibeth sat in one of the nearby armchairs. “Do you mind if I ask you something?”
“How exactly are you associated with The Foundation? I mean, I know you said you worked at Site-43, but…”
Norma gave her a look, “but what?”
“You're like…. 12.”
“12 and a half, thank you very much. And so what? Kids gotta feed their adults somehow.”
It was day 9 since she had left when Lilibeth saw it, on page 17 of a book entitled “The Fareaway Lands”:
In my travels I met many strange people, but none so perplexing as the group of individuals who warned me of the Ways. They could tell I was new, and cautioned me, saying that there were some places and corners you could get stuck in. They explained that they knew a lot about these kinds of places, and did their best to keep Wayfinders safe. When I asked them who they were, they simply replied “Aleph Null”.
Something about this jumped off the page for Lilibeth. There was so far no record of the cottage anywhere in The Library, but this could be a lead. If anyone knew anything about what the cottages were, it would be this group, Aleph Null.
Lilibeth rushed to tell the others, who responded with similar reactions.
“What do you think? The author seems knowledgeable,” Crux said.
“Corners that you can ‘get stuck in’? That sounds an awful lot like our predicament,” Norma agreed.
“Well then that settles it,” Perseus declared, “we have to find these Aleph Null guys. I'll run it by Carina to see if she can help us track them down.”
“Maybe they know a way out of this mess,” posited Norma.
“I hope so,” Lilibeth stared at the cover of the book; deep crimson leather with gold lettering, dusty and heavily weathered. “We've all spent so long in that place, I think we could use a change of scenery.”